Through the generosity of LCMS donors, the “Keys for Christ” program quickly raised a sizable amount of resources for housing programs within a year of its start. Early results from the Housing Sunday event in February 1969 indicated that over $100,000 had been received with nearly half of the synod’s congregations participating. The incoming donations were so significant that Rev. Weber wrote the synod’s Board of Directors on April 14, 1969 to inform them that the Board of Social Ministry would be paying back an initial $15,000 loan from 1968 that had been used to launch the campaign. By June 1, 1969, total receipts had reached $250,000.
These grants and loans went to a wide variety of LCMS-affiliated programs. “Keys for Christ” seed money was used to secure funding for large, low-income housing complexes like Hollybrook Homes, a project of the Florida-Georgia district of the LCMS. “Keys for Christ” provided $81,000 in seed money to the program which then obtained over $2,000,000 in federal grants to complete construction. The final complex consisted of 11 buildings, consisting of 183 family units, a capacity that could accommodate roughly 1,000 people. “Keys for Christ” seed money was also used on smaller projects like the King of Kings Lutheran Center in Fresno, California where the program provided a $2,300 grant to pay for filing fees involved in developing 100 units of low and middle income housing.
The “Keys for Christ” program pursued this “seed money” strategy throughout the course of its existence. Its housing fund would make regular grants and loans to projects each year to help these targeted projects receive federal or private funding or buy land. This initial investment would allow many of these programs to get off of the ground and obtain additional support. The seed system allowed for enormous leverage to be created from the initial gifts to the “Keys for Christ” program. For example, a pamphlet published ten years after the 1970 “Keys for Christ” campaign noted that for every $100 that was invested by the program, $15,000 worth of housing was created. Consequently, while the “Keys for Christ” program only raised $300,000 in that initial 1969-1970 campaign out of the $1,000,000 goal, that original investment still created millions of dollars worth of low-income housing. In addition, because the “Keys for Christ” program was established as a revolving loan fund, it was self-perpetuating. When a church or LCMS program had made the money back from the sale of the low-income housing units, it could repay the “Keys for Christ” loan that it received. The “Keys for Christ” program would then take that money and lend it out again to another program as seed money.
“Keys for Christ” was reaffirmed in the 1971 Synodical Convention when Resolution 9-05 stated that the LCMS would support housing programs across the country, first and foremost, through the “Keys for Christ” program. In 1973, the program received additional support from the Synodical Convention in New Orleans. In that convention’s resolution 9-07, “Keys for Christ” was praised for producing over $25,000,000 in low and middle income housing. The convention directed the Board of Social Ministry, which at that time had become the Board of Social Ministry and World Relief, to encourage LCMS congregations to participate more actively in the revolving fund. The “Keys for Christ” program did this by continuing to promote and support its Housing Sunday program as well as lending financial support to additional projects. By the end of its run in the 1980s, the “Keys for Christ” program had accomplished a great deal through a relatively small but powerful initial investment. By 1980, a “Keys for Christ” informational piece estimated that the program had provided new housing for 10,000 people and helped create just over $60,000,000 in low and middle income housing during the previous decade.
The “Keys for Christ” program’s impact was nationwide and changed thousands of lives. Yet, the next big step in the LCMS’ housing efforts was not another national program, but a far more local one. The “Keys for Christ” funds, after a decade of creating affordable housing, were subsumed into a general housing fund inside of the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (where it remains today, as part of the Low Income Housing Loan Fund). It would go on to generate much more good, as part of the “Keys for Christ” monies would help seed the Nehemiah housing program in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City in the 1980s and 90s – a program that would create more than $400 million in affordable housing over its run.
To read the first part of this three-part story on “Keys for Christ,” please click here.
To read the second part of this three-part story on “Keys for Christ,” please click here.
The preceding story is the third article in our three-part series on the “Keys for Christ” fundraising program. It is excerpted from the academic thesis “Homes Built on Mercy: A History of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Involvement in Affordable Housing” (James Kienker, Westminster College, 2008). All sources and citations have been removed to ensure proper formatting for the web.